Archive for the 'Coalition' Category

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The NHS “army of volunteers” could be a Cummings masterstroke

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

But the details need to be worked out

The main pandemic story for several of the tabloids this morning is the announcement that the government is building up an army of NHS volunteers to help in the fight against the coronavirus

In a way this is simply building and what is already happening. I’m in my mid 70s and even before the announcement notes were being popped through the door about an effort by some people in our street to help with things like shopping and getting medications.

Common threats like the coronavirus do bring out the best in people and the question is how is this going to be organised in a manner that the volunteers and the people being helped are comfortable with.

An immediate problem is shopping and all the panic buying that has been going on. The main supermarkets have all designated particular times during the week when the elderly get priority and exclusive access to the shops. I assume this will extended to the NHS volunteers for it makes sense to do so. If that is the case what is the stop the volunteers using their privileged supermarket access for their own requirements?

Another possible issue is cash. Most shopping now is done by card and how are those being helped going to reimburse the volunteers to pay for their goods? Being confined to their homes limits access to cash machines and they may not have the actual money available.

You can see rows developing that make tabloid headlines of those being helped claiming that an NHS volunteer has run off with the money or has shortchanged them in some way.

Whatever the overall idea is a good one particularly if the lockdown lasts for several months.

Mike Smithson



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How Biden’s campaign is attacking Trump over his handling of the coronavirus epidemic

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020


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New Ipsos MORI polling finds that we’re struggling to remain positive

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Women finding it harder than men

New polling just published by Ipsos-MORI gives us a good snapshot of how the Britain is coping with the coronavirus crisis. Some key details:

Women are significantly more likely to be finding it harder. Three-quarters (72%) are struggling to look forward to the future compared to around half of men (51%). Youngsters are also finding it harder to be positive. Two-thirds (67%) of 18-34-year olds are finding it more difficult, while only half (54%) of 55-75s have the same outlook.

Parents are also finding it harder to keep positive. Those with at least one child aged 17 or under in their household have a bleaker view of the future, seven in ten (69%) of this group are finding it harder to stay positive about the future since the coronavirus crisis, while only six in ten (59%) Britons without a child present in the household say the same.

Day-to-day isn’t as bad. Although still difficult, it is slightly easier for people to stay positive day-to-day. Just over half (55%) of Britons say they are finding it harder to stay positive daily since the start of the coronavirus crisis, while 41% say it has stayed the same.

Similar to positivity for the future, women and younger generations are finding it harder to stay upbeat. While two-thirds (65%) of women are struggling to remain optimistic on a daily basis, 45% of men are having the same difficulties.  Forty-four percent of 55-75s are finding daily positivity harder than before, compared to a majority (56%) of 18-34-year olds feeling the effects.

It will be interesting to monitor this as time moves on. At the moment a real problem is that we have no idea how long this is going to go on for.

Mike Smithson



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Joe Biden’s cognitive condition is increasingly being questioned

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

My overnight bet that he won’t be the nominee

What has become a truism in the fight for the US presidency is that Joe Biden’s biggest problem is Joe Biden. The current tight odds-on betting favourite who is 77 year old and on his third bid for the presidency has for decades been regarded as gaffe-prone but some recent instances suggest that he might be afflicted by cognitive decline.

So far the Democrats are so keen on ousting Trump that this is an issue that hasn’t yet really surfaced but it only takes few minutes on YouTube to raise questions.

One thing’s for sure, if Biden does become the nominee then the Trump campaign will seek to ruthlessly exploit this apparent weakness.

The above interview Tweeted overnight is just one of many examples that raise questions over the former VP’s cognitive condition.

One of the odd features of the nomination betting has been the strength of Hillary Clinton who is now second favourite. My reading is that she is being seen some by some punters as a likely substitute should Biden himself decide that this is not for him. I’m not convinced about her so I’ve laid Biden at 1.15 (bet that he won’t be the nominee) on Betfair.

Mike Smithson



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A national emergency and a restricted parliament make a National Government essential

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

Johnson should restructure the government as soon as the Lab leadership election is over

If the Covid-19 virus were a sentient enemy, we’d credit it with having pulled off a rather neat trick. The scale of the crisis calls for the government to be granted extraordinary powers with which to combat that enemy: to be able to close down large parts of economic and social life – yet that abundance of power must come almost unchecked by parliamentary oversight because the nature of the virus itself means that it’s unsafe for more than a handful of MPs to be present in the Commons at any one time. Inevitably, there must be concerns at such an imbalance.

It’s true that scrutiny need not be carried out within the Palace of Westminster. The media can play a major part, both directly and in giving voice to politicians of a different opinion. Even so, that’s not really an adequate substitute for direct, face-to-face questioning and debate.

So how to square the circle? Well, extraordinary situations can necessitate extraordinary solutions. If scrutiny cannot be effectively performed from outside the government, but is essential given the powers being wielded by it, then the checks and balances must be placed within the Executive. In short, other parties should be invited into by Johnson to join a National Government.

That is not a proposal made lightly. Britain does not do generally do National Governments, even in times of crisis. Neither government entering either World War saw fit to invite the opposition in at the beginning (and in WW1, the coalition was only ever really a tactical necessity rather than a strategic intent), never mind government facing lesser challenges.

But Covid-19 is different. The disruption to life is not far short of a war, as is the range of powers being taken by the government – though one hopes the death toll will be considerably lower. Even if for only a short duration, both the politics and the unity of nation purpose make a National Government the best answer.

Unfortunately, it’s an answer that will have to wait a little while. For the moment, Boris Johnson cannot negotiate with an opposite number in Labour: Corbyn is on his way out and cannot commit his party beyond a few weeks, while his successor is as-yet unidentified (Labour’s interminable leadership election is now in its 78th day, for those counting). However, once Starmer is elected, an immediate invite should be sent.

Likewise, similar invitations should be sent to the leaders of the other Westminster parties. The Lib Dems will presumably have to postpone their own election until after the pandemic has subsided, and while the SNP will probably reject any invitation, consistent with their principles, the invite should be sent anyway.

After that, we can all play fantasy reshuffle but I’m not going to speculate or suggest here, beyond that Starmer (assuming it is he) should be DPM without direct ministerial brief but with a mandate – and the authority – to get departments and ministers to work together; someone to do the strategic detail to Johnson’s PR. Beyond that, Sunak and Hancock should not be moved but all other positions should be up for grabs.

There are of course political risks in such a move, most obviously (for Johnson), it would potentially in an instant rehabilitate Labour as a party of government, both in giving it experience and in – probably – ridding its front bench of the Corbynite activists and replacing them with people who can actually run things. On the other hand, if Labour raises its game it might force the Tories to do so too, and incumbent parties still start with systemic advantages. You can worry too much about the other side.

On a higher level, you could also argue that disrupting the government now by getting rid of half of it and inviting in a lot of inexperienced outsiders would be the worst thing to do. However, to counter that, much of the detail is being handled by experts and the politicians frequently find themselves confronted with a new brief, either after a reshuffle or an election win; government tends to go on fairly smoothly. The important thing is to get the big strategic calls right – and often those are values ones rather than detail-centric.

It would be nice to think that the crisis will rapidly dissipate and that this call is an overreaction to a passing moment. Perhaps so – but if so, better err on the side of caution, and if not, better to have the political tools needed to hand.

David Herdson



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Sunak (tipped on PB when he was 200/1) now betting favourite to succeed Johnson as PM

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

 One person who is having a good coronavirus crisis is the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak who is now 5/2 favourite to become the next Prime Minister with SportingIndex leapfrogging LAB leader hopeful Kier Starmer in the betting.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer was praised last week for his rousing speech detailing how local businesses and households would be supported during the Coronavirus outbreak, which has led the betting firm to slash his odds from 9/1 to 5/2.

Sir Kier Starmer, who was front-runner at 5/2 last week, has now drifted to 3/1 as it shapes up to become a two-horse race to replace Boris Johnson in No.10.

Tory MPs Michel Gove and Sajid Javid are next in line to replace BoJo at longer odds of 20/1, while Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey is now 25/1 alongside Home Secretary Priti Patel.

On the Betfair exchange Starmer is still favourite.

Mike Smithson



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So here we have it what Boris used to deride: The “Nanny State”

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

The potential of the coronavirus crisis to change our politics

One of the great ironies of the current fight against the coronavirus is that the prime minister overseeing the biggest clampdown on personal liberties in peacetime is Boris Johnson who as a journalist made a name for himself by taking on what he would often term the “Nanny State”.

The headline that stands out on this morning’s front pages is that in the Daily Telegraph the paper that Boris used to work for and where he continued being a columnist before he became a minister. As can be seen it states simply the End of Freedom. This is about ideology and it must have been hard for Johnson to come to this decision in order to contain the massive threat that the coronavirus presents.

This is how Times columnist Rachel Sylvester sums it up in her excellent column this morning.

The prime minister, an instinctive libertarian who has spent his whole life railing against the “nanny state”, finds himself imposing unprecedented controls on individual freedom: closing restaurants, pubs, gyms and schools while also restricting travel. The “survival of the fittest” mentality of those in Downing Street who wanted to create a herd immunity to the virus in the population has been banished in favour of a concerted effort to encourage social distancing. Margaret Thatcher famously said: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people.” Mr Johnson is realising that sometimes people have to be made to do the right thing, and that there is such a thing as the common good. The Tory champions of capitalism, who understood the cost of everything but the value of nothing, have concluded that at a time of global emergency the state may be the only possible safety net..”

At this stage we do not know how long the use of restrictions on a liberties are going to continue for and it is hard to predict how this will impact on the image of the Conservative Party. A lot depends very much on how successful these moves are in containing the virus in the UK and how well the country does in relation to other similar nations. For one of the the features of the crisis is that it is something that encompasses the entire world and we are seeing so many comparisons being made that seek to set out what the UK has done in relation to other advanced nations.

The Second World War changed the Politics of the UK for good and created an environment in which things like the establishment of the NHS became a political necessity for all parties to support. I just wonder how the fight against the coronavirus is going to impact on future politics and how we view the role of the state. You can see this being a reference point so often in future discussions.

Mike Smithson





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Welcome to Lockdown – Boris style

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

The question is how does this end?

By any standards the live TV broadcast by Boris Johnson tonight was with without precedent in peacetime given how it takes away a huge amount of the freedom and discretion enjoyed by the individuals with the aim of impeding the impact of the coronavirus.

Looking back we were being prepared for this over the past few days and in many ways it is less rigid than perhaps some of us had feared. I like to cycle for an hour or so everyday just to keep fit and my fear was that I would be unable to get on my bike. That’s going to be allowed but I have to do it alone.

The measure about gatherings restricted to just two people appears also sensible given the nature of the the threat that the world is facing which is killing dozens of people everyday. The big question is how will this come to an end. What circumstances will the government deem it right that these restrictions can be lifted.

One of the things that really is helping the government at the moment is that there is no real opposition. Corbyn. the lame-duck Labour leader, has only a week and a half left in the job and he has been nothing like the political force he was since his second general election failure on December 12th.

This should be a good moment to Keir Starmer to take over the Labour leadership for Johnson’s government needs to be properly accountable and that requires someone like Starmer. His prime objective will be to ensure that the government is continuously held to account for everything that it is doing.

Mike Smithson